Research and innovation born out of failure

From left to right: Jan Palmowski (The Guild), Koen de Pater (EIC), Martin Kern (EIT), Anette Poulsen Miltoft (Aarhus University), Ulf Landegren (Uppsala University), and Aard Groen (University of Groningen).

At the Guild’s 26 March Policy Lab on innovation and FP9, panellists underscored the value of a compelling element: failure, as well as our ability to learn from it.

Failing, speakers argued, is unavoidable, but doing so can become a constitutive factor of Europe’s success in research and innovation, as the experience of more risk-friendly economies has proven. Europe remains at the forefront of developing new approaches through its outstanding science – but more effort is needed for the approaches to capitalise. This is why in different ways, Ulf Landegren (Uppsala University), Anette Poulsen Miltoft (Aarhus University) and Aard Groen (University of Groningen) advocate for a cultural and institutional shift that diminishes risk aversion and embraces failure as well as persistence.

On the level of universities, countries and the EU, policies that create safe spaces to ‘try and try again’ will be integral to bring about change. It is about funding, yes, but it is also about simplifying processes that facilitate industry-academic cooperation, and about deepening understanding between academics and businesspeople.

For example, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has been fostering entrepreneurship through education, start-up acceleration programmes and long-term support to local innovation ecosystems, explained EIT director, Martin Kern. This opens room for synergies with university-based efforts, such as in the Aarhus model for entrepreneurial education, one that engages students and academics across all disciplines.

The Guild has argued consistently that the EU, in its future innovation policy and in the European Innovation Council, must adopt a broad definition of innovation that includes not only technological advances but also cultural and social innovation. It is not certain that the European Commission intends to give any focus to these types of innovation or to the relevance of the Social Sciences and Humanities. From the words of DG RTD’s Koen de Pater, it is rather likely that the bottom-up EIC calls will be discipline-neutral, thus also open to SSH and social innovation, where relevant.

Cultural changes, like research and innovation processes, take time and require a certain level of comfort with failure, but the experience of both are crucial to restoring Europe’s leadership in R&I. As the speakers pointed out, this must happen in integrated innovation ecosystems, where education, research and transfer of knowledge and technology take place unhampered, and where business and academia learn to trust each other and to work together.

Published Apr. 4, 2018 10:45 AM - Last modified Oct. 29, 2020 12:32 PM